Unlike their Western counterparts, many Muslims are fond of their heroes of the past — particularly the jihadist types who for centuries thrived on terrorizing the West.
This was recently underscored by Barbaros: Sword of the Mediterranean, a television series written and produced in Turkey that aired late last year, and is dedicated to highlighting the clash between Islam and Christendom — in a way, of course, that demonizes the latter and extols the former.
The highly fictionalized series revolves around four Muslim brothers and their naval exploits and battles against the Christian maritime states of the Mediterranean.
While the series portrays the brothers as great heroes who sacrificed much to "defend" the Ottoman Empire against Christian Europe, history — real, actual, recorded history — has a different tale to tell.
In brief, the four brothers began life as common Barbary pirates ("corsairs"). The eldest of these brothers, Oruch, was notoriously sadistic, and once "ripped out the throat of a Christian with his teeth and ate the tongue," to quote historian Roger Crowley in Empires of the Sea. He also "tied the head of a Hospitaller knight to a rope and twirled it like a globe until the eyeballs popped. In Spain and southern Italy people crossed themselves at his name."
Due to the brothers' many successful exploits against and slave raids on Europe, they eventually caught the eye of Ottoman sultan Suleiman "the Great." Around 1520, the sultan took one of these Barbary brother pirates, Khair al-Din Barbarossa (d. 1546), whom the series is named after, into his service and helped him prosecute an especially ferocious jihad on Europe. Claiming that "Allah had made him to frighten Christians," Barbarossa wrought havoc along the Christian Mediterranean, rarely withdrawing without thousands of captives. In one instance, on the island of Minorca, in the midst of the devastation, he left a message pinned to the tail of a horse in which he vowed that he would not rest "until I have killed the last one of you and enslaved your women, your daughters, and your children."
Over the following two decades, hundreds of thousands of Europeans were enslaved, so that, by 1541, "Algiers teemed with Christian captives, and it became a common saying that a Christian slave was scarcely a fair barter for an onion."
This, apparently, is what Turkey is proud of — Muslims who "defend" Islam by invading Western lands to terrorize, slaughter, and enslave its people on the "grievance" that the unrepentant Christians are infidels who refuse the summons of Islam.
Nor is this sentiment limited to an obscure movie producer and a few Turks; it's shared all the way at the top of the Turkish hierarchy. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan habitually praises those Turkish heroes and sultans of the past who most terrorized, slaughtered, and enslaved Europeans, such as Muhammad II, the conqueror of Constantinople — and a notorious pedophile to boot, as both Turkish and European chronicles attest.
The message could not be clearer: invading and conquering non-Muslims is a laudable thing.
The message could not be clearer: invading and conquering neighboring peoples — not due to any real grievances, but because they are non-Muslim — with all the attending atrocities, rapes, destruction, and mass slavery, is a laudable thing, apparently to be emulated once convenient.
Nor is such thinking limited to Turkey. As one report states, "[t]he television series was a Turkish and Algerian collaboration and is also being aired in Pakistan, spreading the Islam versus Christian rhetoric to other parts of the Muslim world."
Raymond Ibrahim is the Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.